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by Arnold Valentin Wallenkampf
18. The Joy and Glory of Justification by Faith
Justification by faith! How sweet the thought! Differences overcome. Bitter feelings assuaged. Misunderstandings removed.
Separation bridged. Peace of mind after years of anxiety. Perfect fellowship!
In human relationships there is no sweeter sensation than when spirits that have been alienated and have cherished enmity toward each other again flow together. Even the cause of the animosity is forgotten.
This peace of mind is not a greenhouse plant. Peace, as Einar Billing says, is "not a tender treasure which we must anxiously guard in order to protect it against the world, but that mighty power which guards us and in whose company we may pass securely through the world; not a perishable sentiment which comes and goes, but the secure and objective reality which surrounds us wherever we go, from which we cannot in a sense escape; not the last, final and highest in the Christian life, but the first, basic—and highest."1
Peace of mind is indeed the choicest gift of God. It was the gift for which the Levitical priests were continually to petition God on behalf of His people, according to Gods own words to Moses (see Num. 6:22-26). Such peace is grounded in fellowship and union with God. It is "a peace in spite of all, a peace in the midst of conflict. Because the forgiveness which brings peace is an act of God received and held by faith, or, in other words, because peace depends on fellowship with God, it can exist in the midst of darkness and tumult, and it can dwell in a human heart filled with storm and stress."2 It is the experiential fruit of the grace that comes from God. It is "a positive peace, peace of heart and mind, through Him who is the Prince of Peace."3If men and women are at peace with God "in hearty and diligent obedience, what matter all other foes?"4 Such peace was the parting gift Jesus gave His disciples. He says, "Peace is my parting gift to you, my own peace, such as the world cannot give" (John 14:27, NEB).
Jesus Himself demonstrated His possession of this peace while He was on earth amid greater adversities than you and I have ever faced. When He stood before His accusers and executioners in Pilates judgment hall, He had peace of mind. It was not dependent on external circumstances. His peace was grounded firmly in His complete oneness with His Father and in His assurance that everything between Him and His Father was right. "In the heart of Christ, where reigned perfect harmony with God, there was perfect peace. He was never elated by applause, nor dejected by censure or disappointment. Amid the greatest opposition and the most cruel treatment, He was still of good courage."5
Today multitudes are troubled and afraid. They lack peace. But Jesus is graciously proffering you and me undisturbed peace. The peace of mind that God is willing and eager to give to you and me in this bewildering age is as unlimited as the ceaseless waves of the sea. Through justification by faith—being put right with God—God desires to give this gift of peace to every person born into this world.
For the Japanese Army straggler Onoda, coming out from the jungles of Lubang Island in the Philippines, it was peace after 30 years of his one-man warfare against a whole nation. For three decades he had lived in constant fear. Night and day he had kept vigil lest he be caught by Filipino search parties. His fears had been reinforced by the fact that two friends who had been with him during the major portion of his hiding were killed by soldiers. But on March 9, 1974, when Onoda personally accepted the peace already concluded, the separation ended in a warm glow of reconciliation and acceptance by the nation he had previously regarded as his enemy. Justification by faith is just such a restoration of peace between the sinner and his God.
Every normal person has a resident court within. This is the conscience. It is the judgment of this court upon sin committed that produces guilt, or condemnation. Sin and guilt are not identical, although they belong together. "There is a difference between the blaze and the blackened spot upon the wall caused by it; long after the blaze is out the spot remains. Even so with sin and guilt. Sins red blaze blackens the soul; but long after sin is left behind, the black mark upon the soul continues."6
It is such guilt that prompts tax evaders to send thousands of dollars anonymously to the Internal Revenue Service every year. Their efforts at tax evasion have been caught or discovered by no one. But they cannot live with the condemnation of their own resident inner court. To free themselves from its condemnation, they send the IRS the tax they had withheld.
There are other causes of guilt that no tax payments can remove. But they may be removed through justification by faith. "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Heb.4:16).
Justification by faith—a change of thoughts and feelings from hostility and rebellion to love and obedience toward God—brings that peace "which passes all understanding" (Phil. 4:7). The sinful past, so apparently irrevocable, has been blotted out as by a magician's wand. The past is separated from us with impervious walls. These barriers seal the past from the present; our sorrow is changed into redemptive joy.
"The joy of release, the peace of conscience, the escape from condemnation, the pulsating life of freedom in Christ—all this the creative dynamic doctrine of justification should bring to the men of today as it brought it to Martin Luther."7 Indeed, "the sweetest melodies that come from human lips —justification by faith, and the righteousness of Christ"8— are ours through faith in Christ and submission to His will.
The Old Testament believers saw salvation as a shadow. In Hebrews 9 they are presented as looking forward to it in faith, believing that someday their redemption price would be paid. Peter says that the prophets tried to peer into the future to ascertain how the promise was to be fulfilled (see 1 Peter 1:10). To them the execution of the plan of salvation was not clear.
We have seen the promise of God, first announced to Adam and Eve in Eden (see Gen. 3:15), fulfilled on Calvary. Through it forgiveness and restored fellowship with God may be ours with the promise of eternal life. Justification is not a mere doctrine. Satan undoubtedly knows the doctrine of salvation better than you and I. But his knowledge of it is not experimental or experiential. But for you and me, through personal faith and trust in God and with a glad-hearted submission to His will, it becomes existential, a personal experience.
Justification by faith is an exhilarating experience, and the more so for those who have been most severely harassed by sin. The heavier the gravity of sin and guilt, with a consequent sense of divine condemnation weighing on a person s mind, the more precious is the deliverance from its crushing oppression. Luther gloried in it joyously, because the weight of sin had rested on him like a millstone. But he learned that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:1). They are safe and secure both now and in the final judgment. No condemnation, either in time or in eternity.
Justification by faith sets a sinner free from sin and guilt, just as in ancient Israel all slaves were set free from indebtedness during the year of jubilee (see Lev. 25:9, 10). Justification by faith makes the joyous jubilee trumpet sound in every believers heart.
Peace is the result. "Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1, TEV). The phrase "have been put right" or "having been justified" (perfect participle in Greek) points back to an event in past time whose results are still present, namely, Christs death for all on Calvary. Gods forensic justification from His throne, based on the cross, becomes a subjective experience of personal peace with the King of the universe when we consent to have our every thought brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
In Hebrews this peace is portrayed by a believer having entered into rest (see Heb. 4:10, 11). He has desisted from the impossible attempt to become acceptable to God, to become righteous by his
own works. He has recognized his inability to pay the debt of sin; he has accepted the payment Jesus made for him on the cross and lives the new life through the gift and power of the Holy Spirit.
Each year many people desire to become citizens of the United States of America. But it is even greater to become a son or a daughter of God. To this the gospel invites by saying, "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" (John 1:12). Redemption in Christ is full and free. We have only to receive and accept it as we give ourselves to God in total trust and submission.
Seventh-day Adventists value and appreciate a living experience of justification by faith more than do most Christians. Because our ethical standards are so high, we may often fail to reach them. This failure to attain will inevitably cause discouragement and despair unless we have a Saviour who graciously forgives and lifts us up again, as a parent lifts a stumbling child.
The Greeks had a legend of a horse with wings. But even though the horse had wings, he still trudged in the dirt of a muddy road. One day a man saw this horse walking slowly along the road through the mud and dirt. He stepped up to the horse and said, "Why do you laboriously trudge along in the filth and mud of this road? Dont you know you have wings? You were not made for this road. You have wings; you were made to fly."
Man was not made to grovel in the despair of sin and guilt. Justified by faith in Christ and His saving sacrifice on the cross, he was lifted from the dirt. He now may fly in the sunshine of Gods love.
As a result of justification by faith and its fruit in Christian living, the redeemed will soon sing a song of redemption that the angels will never be able to learn. It will be sung on the sea of glass (see Rev. 15:3, 4) in sweeter tones and with deeper joy than even the Japanese Army straggler Onoda felt on his surrender. At that time the redeemed will thrill at their reconciliation with God, at being put right with Him, after 6,000 years of separation. Because the oppression and separation of sin have been so terrible, the restoration of peace through justification by faith will be so much sweeter.
During the Civil War someone asked Abraham Lincoln how he was going to treat the rebels after the war ended. He answered, "Ill treat them as if they had never been away.
This is exactly how God treats us, former rebels. The alienation caused by the rupture
of sin will be healed and forgotten as we return to Him, like the prodigal son to his
father. The intimate friendship and close fellowship between the Creator and His creatures
that existed in the Garden of Eden is restored through justification by faith. The rupture
caused by sin is healed.
1 Quoted in Gustaf Aulen, The Faith of the Christian Church, Erik Wahlstrom, trans. (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960), p. 274. [back]
2 Ibid. [back]
3 The Interpreters Bible, vol. 2, p. 174. [back]
4 Pulpit Commentary on Numbers, p. 57. [back]
5 White, The Desire of Ages, p. 330. [back]
5 Abraham Kuyper, The Work of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids: Win. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1975; first appearance in English translation, 1900), p. 268. [back]
7 John Roy Strock, "On Justification by Faith, Lutheran Church Quarterly 17(1944): 300. [back]
8 White, in Review and Herald, Apr. 4,1893, quoted in Arthur 0.
Daniells, Christ Our Righteousness (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1941), p. 73. [back]
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